Successful historical costuming is all about the silhouette (among other things). When the dress is “just not right,” take a look at how it appears. Sometimes the proportions are off. Sometimes the undergarments hang funny. Other times it’s just the support shape the entire costume is built on.
Reproduction hoopskirts from the Mid-Victorian era, the late 1850s & 1860s, are NOTORIOUS for hanging badly and being of a weird shape. Perhaps you’ve seen a few at Civil War reenactments. One of those unsightly forms is known affectionately as “the lampshade.” And it is NOT period correct.
A lampshade silhouette is where the skirt hangs out from the waist, falls inward to the body about thigh level then curves out and over the lower hoop wire row. (Inexpensive modern bridal hoops are infamous for this look.) What you want is a dome (early years) or pyramid shape (later era) of the skirt.
Use these 3 tips to avoid looking like a light bulb topper.
1. Adjust the bottom hoop circumference. Do this by making the length of the wire shorter – but don’t go cutting the wire! Simply push the wire ends past each other in the casing of the skirt, overlapping until the skirt falls in an easy hang, proportionally in line with the wires above it.
The key here is to not have that lower wire so much bigger than the one above (like in the photo above). Once the wires are overlapped enough, control this new circle frame with masking tape, duct tape, or if buckram covered wire, poke two holes in the center and either sew together or use a twist-tie to secure. (HeHe, gotta love modern solutions!)
2. Add another wire row to the mid-section of the hoop. When you’re wearing the hoop, about where your hand falls to your side is where the lampshade style will sink in. Much of this is caused by a heavy skirt but also because there’s not enough wire support at this level. Sew in a new casing with twill tape and add hoop wire. Remember to overlap the ends and secure with the above instructions.
3. My personal favorite – Add another petticoat… Or two… Or three. Seriously. In fact, listen to what May said just this week:
“Just made one simple petticoat for my regency ball gown and it completely changed the silhouette.”
Yes, petticoats DO make a world of difference to your historical costume silhouette. Use them. Repeatedly.
A good ruffled petticoat followed by a smooth, plain one will help immensely in hiding that lampshade profile. The ruffles should be thick around that mid section too to support the skirt so it doesn’t collapse inward. And remember to make sure the petticoat hangs lower than that bottom wire so you don’t end up with a “break line” in your skirt.
Have you used one of these tips to fix a lampshade silhouette? What other tricks have you used or heard about?